May 22, 2022
Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67 Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 John 14:23-29
After Judas Iscariot leaves the Last Supper, Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is to come and says, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
The lives of the apostles changed when Jesus called them and it is about to change again – in a big way! Like the high school graduate who leaves home, like the college graduate who enters the work force, the apostles are about to go out into the world to carry on Christ’s ministry without him by their side – well sort of. And like any new venture in life, they truly don’t know what to expect. Some things we have to experience to understand.
But the apostles are no more alone than our graduates. Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to them to teach them “everything” and remind them what Jesus said when he was with them. The spirit of our teachers is with us as we transition from text book and classroom learning to lived “experience” and “learning.”
I should probably note that our teachers are not limited to those in our classrooms. Our teachers include our parents, friends, and a host of others who teach us, often by example, how to live our lives – and in some instances how not to live our lives.
Regardless, there comes a point in our lives when we must go forth and apply what we have learned. A time when we become responsible for ourselves. This is true for our faith as well. We come to St. Paul’s, or tune in, for a number of reasons. We come to learn, we come to give thanks, we come for comfort, we come for support and to support others, and hopefully we come to be challenged. Then, we are to “Go forth in the name of Christ to love and serve the Lord.”
When I first started attending an Episcopal Church I was challenged in many ways. I remember sitting in my pew as I waited to go forward and receive communion spending that time reflecting on my week. I would think about the things I had done and left undone. Then I would consider what I needed to do differently in the coming week to be more faithful to Christ’s call to us to share his love with others. Today, I still find myself being challenged to be more loving and affirming.
A couple of weeks ago, Cathy and I attended a Wellness Conference for clergy and spouses. It focused on our physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial health. Balance is important and those of us in the “helping professions” (which is arguably every one of us), can easily be thrown off balance and lose our focus on what we need in order to be helpful. Caring for ourselves helps us experience the peace in our hearts that Jesus promises his disciples.
Not only does this gospel reading remind us of the importance of finding peace in our lives in the midst of everything that is wrong in this world, it reminds us to open ourselves that we might receive the Holy Spirit and what Christ has revealed to us. I’d be surprised to meet someone who has not heard the saying, “home is where the heart is.” In this scripture Jesus promises God’s home will be with those who love him. Love, God’s love, makes a house a home.
As a priest, I am expected to be a spiritual leader, but I cannot do this if I do not take care of myself. Like everyone else, I can be easily distracted by this or that and lose focus on caring for myself – leaving me ill equipped to care for others. Balance in our lives is not easy to achieve and the pandemic made it even more difficult.
Behavior is learned and through repetition becomes habit. The pandemic changed our habits by prohibiting much of what we do for our wellness. We developed new habits, and for many, these new habits are not as healthy. They are isolating and keep us from experiencing the love of God and others. I just read that 1/3 of churches experienced a 25% decline from 2019 to 2021 – reflecting a significant change in habits. One of the largest churches in Chicago is laying off 30% of its staff.
The good news shared at the wellness conference is that we can develop new habits. It takes work, but if we make a conscious effort, we can improve our health in each facet of our lives. We can resume those practices that promote our health in whatever part of our life needs attention. Balance. We need balance if we are to find God’s peace. Humans are social creatures and we need to be together.
The pandemic robbed us of needed time with friends and family. When members of our vestry were asked what gives life to St. Paul’s, one answer was “togetherness.” A couple of others said “participation.” All of the responses spoke to relationships and being together. In response to the question, “What will sustain our life together?” someone said, “Community. Community. Community.” I agree. What I need, what you need, what we all need if we are to be well and live in peace is a sense of community that begins by focusing on what gives us life – Jesus Christ. We experience life in Christ when we walk his way of love.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, make us whole once again. Help us to restore our lives together and make our circle of love and support even larger. We pray for balance in our lives which will enable us to grow in love and service to you and our neighbor. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.